Sacro GRA (2013)

Director:  Gianfranco Rosi
Plot:  The film depicts life along the Grande Raccordo Anulare, the ring-road highway that circles Rome.

Genre:  Documentary
Awards:  Won Golden Lion (Venice Film Festival).
Runtime:  93min
Rating:  PG13 for some coarse language and suggestive content.

Imagine you are in a car on a ring road so large it takes nearly an hour to make a round.  But why would you make a round, unless you ain't going anywhere?  Sacro GRA feels this way.  To the surprise of many, this Italian documentary won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.  Maybe it's good, well nobody knows until they have seen it.  And you might, because you are curious, despite the mixed reviews so far. 

I don’t hold a vastly different opinion.  The film is indeed an above average affair.  At best, it is a diverse look at the people who live next to the gigantic ring road in Rome.  At worst, it is uninvolving and fails to achieve any meaningful insight to what it has set out to do. 

Often it is simultaneously interesting and dull.  Bookended by scenes of vehicles transiting through the ring road, the film is like those cars – passing through, without time, without end.  It could play on for hours, even years and it would still roughly be the same, only (much) more boring.

Depending on your school of thought, Sacro GRA may or may not be a documentary.  The documentaries that we are familiar with often have a narrator, interviews with subjects, and an agenda.  Sacro GRA has none.  It functions as a series of snapshots in cinema verite style of a number of  'interesting' folks:  a scientist studying weevils that destroy palm trees, an ambulance emergency worker, the musings of a father-and-daughter in an apartment, and many more... 

Director Gianfranco Rosi's presence is non-existent at least on camera, and all the shots evoke a non-intrusive nature.  As far as the film is concern, this is what experts would call “observational cinema”.  In other words, this is a documentary in the purest sense of the word.  Though today, it is seen more as a 'documentary movie', where the subjects are akin to actors with a script.  If nothing else, Sacro GRA gets us to think in this direction.

The only semblance of human empathy comes from the portrayal of the aforementioned ambulance worker.  He lives alone, video chats with his relatives, and cares for his ill mother.  Emotional connection is crucial in any film, documentary or otherwise.  Unfortunately, there is a chronic lack of it here. 

The concept behind Sacro GRA is potentially fascinating, but Rosi doesn't make us care much about the road or its people.  The question is:  It could have been any other ring road in the world.  So why then the Grande Raccordo Anulare?  Because it is close to home is not a good answer.

Verdict:  Interesting and dull at the same time, this 'documentary movie' operates as a series of vignettes of people who live next to an enormous ring road around Rome.


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